Portion sizes, what do they really mean?
I talk to a lot of clients about portion sizes and how much of any one food they should be eating at a time. This is of course particularly relevant for weight loss clients but in fact we all need to think about our portions of foods such as fruit and vegetables and how much we are getting. Imperial College London recently published analysis earlier this year which showed that eating 10 portions of fruit and veg a day could dramatically decrease our risk of certain conditions including cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke. The review, which looked at 95 studies, found that there was significant evidence to support the benefits of eating this amount of fruit and veg in helping to prevent premature deaths.
This is all well and good but a lot of us still get confused about what actually is a portion of fruit and veg. Yes, 80g is one serving but how do we measure this in practical terms without getting the scales out each time? One easy way to think of it is the size of fruit. For medium sized fruit such as apples, pears and bananas, one is a portion. For larger fruit such as melons, a normal slice counts as one of your daily intake. For smaller fruit such as plums or satsumas, it's two.
I also think that our hands are one of the most practical tools for measuring portions. Your clenched fist is roughly the size of one serving of vegetables. Your cupped hands together will fit a serving of berries. Two double handfuls of raw spinach will equal one portion. This way of measuring is really helpful as it keeps it relative to our size.
You can also use your hands to measure portions of other foods. Oily fish and meat are the palm of your hand (flat) whereas white fish is the whole hand. Your cupped palm is a good indicator for a serving of nuts and seeds.
It's not just about quantity when it comes to fruit and veg, variety matters as well. This means that eating 10 apples or 8 fistfuls of broccoli a day does not mean you have got your daily requirements. It's important to include as many different varieties as possible - eating a rainbow really is important.
Here are my tips for maximising your 10 a day:
Go for an 80/20 split and make it heavier on the veg. Fruit is great but it can be high in sugar so aim for no more than 2-3 portions a day.
Use fresh fruit at breakfast. You can include 1-2 portions with breakfast which is a great start to the day and helpful for those with a sweeter tooth.
Smoothies are a good option. It's important to add vegetables as well as fruit to a smoothie though. If you use bananas or berries as the base for example, make sure to add something like spinach, kale or beetroot.
Snack on fruit and veg. A piece of fruit with some nuts and seeds makes a great snack or try vegetable crudites with something like hummus or guacamole.
Keep it seasonal and local. Wherever possible, try to buy fruit and veg that is at least in season and has ideally been grown locally. This means that it won't have flown thousands of miles or been grown in artificial conditions and you will be maximising the nutrients.